Disgruntled Democrats Bemoan Biden’s Vow to Block Washington Crime Law

Disgruntled Democrats Bemoan Biden’s Vow to Block Washington Crime Law
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Oct. 26, 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Samantha Flom
3/3/2023
Updated:
3/3/2023
0:00
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are expressing frustration with President Joe Biden after he signaled his support for a Republican-led effort to reverse a local District of Columbia law that softens penalties on violent crimes.

The Revised Criminal Code Act, initially vetoed by Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser, was passed by the district’s city council in January in a 12-1 override vote.

The law represents an overhaul of the district’s criminal code, removing most mandatory minimum sentences and reducing the penalties for violent offenses like carjacking, robbery, and sexual assault.

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

If passed by the Senate and signed by Biden, those resolutions would invalidate the local laws.

“I support D.C. statehood and home rule—but I don’t support some of the changes D.C. council put forward over the Mayor’s objections—such as lowering penalties for carjackings,” Biden noted in a March 2 tweet.

“If the Senate votes to overturn what D.C. council did—I’ll sign it.”

But while 31 House Democrats joined with their Republican colleagues to pass the resolution disapproving of the crime bill, the vast majority did not.

“This ain’t it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) responded to the president in a tweet of her own.

“D.C. has a right to govern itself, like any other state or municipality. If the president supports D.C. statehood, he should govern like it.

“Plenty of places pass laws the president may disagree with,” she added. “He should respect the people’s gov of D.C. just as he does elsewhere.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) speaks to reporters in the Hart Senate Office building in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) speaks to reporters in the Hart Senate Office building in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 1, 2022. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Likewise, Democrat Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, responded that it was a “sad day for D.C. home rule and D.C. residents’ right to self-governance.”

“We had hoped that with more Senate support, we would have been able to ensure that neither disapproval resolution pending before the Senate would reach the president’s desk, but with the nationwide increase in crime, most senators do not want to be seen as supporting criminal justice reform,” Norton said in a statement.

“I will continue to do everything within my power to persuade the president that signing or failing to veto the resolution would empower the paternalistic, anti-democratic Republican opposition to the principle of local control over local affairs.”

Meanwhile, some Senate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have voiced support for the resolution, expressing concern over the potential consequences the crime law would have on public safety.

“I don’t support it [the crime law],” Manchin told CNN on Feb. 27. “I mean, I want to put people away, I don’t want to let them out. I haven’t been briefed on it, but what I know about it, I would vote to rescind it.”

And Manchin’s vote could make all the difference in passing the resolution, as the Democrats’ already slim majority in the Senate has been reduced to just one vote in the absence of Sen. John Fetterman (D-Penn.), who remains hospitalized as he receives treatment for clinical depression.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.